With the newspaper industry in decline and big layoffs at a lot of big newspapers, this is a tough time to be a journalist. But someone forgot to tell that to the elite sportswriters who, according to The New York Times, are receiving offers of double or triple what they earned at newspapers to write for Yahoo! Sports (NASDAQ: YHOO) and ESPN. Even Sports Illustrated lost star columnist Rick Reilly to ESPN -- for a reported $3 million per year.
The Times quotes sports agent Leigh Steinberg: "It's the exact same model as what happened to athletes. We're seeing free agency for sports journalists."
In spite of all the complaining and gnashing of teeth about the decline of journalism, I would argue that the internet is the best thing that has happened to the industry in a long time. The rise of aggregators and syndication has probably created a decline in the number of reporter jobs available -- but less duplication of efforts is good.
Today, the most valuable sports reporters are those doing original research and providing opinion and analysis. The internet and ad-supported business models (sometimes accompanied by subscription fees, as is the case with ESPN Insider) allow media outlets to throw huge sums of money at top reporters.
The same thing is happening in the financial press, where elite journalists like Jim Cramer command seven-figure pay packages. It's particularly important that elite journalists be paid well particularly in business reporting, where someone with an ability for investigative financial research could probably earn a huge payday working for a money manager.